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Preparing for the big quake

Experts will discuss local threat

Based on historical geological patterns and physical scientific evidence, it’s widely believed that the Pacific Northwest is long overdue for a major earthquake originating off the Oregon or Washington coast.

Scientists from the U.S. Geological Survey and those working in emergency agencies in the two states believe the impact from a magnitude 8.0 to 9.0 “Cascadia Subduction Zone” quake could create serious disruptions from northern California to Canada.

In the Columbia River Gorge, landslides could shut down travel along area highways and restrict vital services for days or weeks. Also having an unknown effect on the local community is the fact that areas east of the Cascades — including the city of The Dalles — are designated as places of refuge for earthquake survivors displaced from cities closer to the epicenter.

Cascadia Subduction Zone earthquakes occur roughly every 300 to 500 years. The most recent quake occurred in 1700, with the year specifically identified through detailed records of tsunami damage in Japan in that year. Because it has been so long already, geologists calculate the odds of this type of earthquake occurring within the next 50 years as roughly one in three.

To help residents of the Gorge region prepare for this possible calamity —the predicted earthquake is routinely referred to as “The Big One”— Columbia Gorge Community College will host an emergency preparedness fair in The Dalles next week.

On Wednesday, April 19, CGCC will partner with Wasco County Emergency Management to present a three-hour public forum to help educate residents about how to prepare for what is widely predicted to be a terrible catastrophe.

The fair will begin at 5 p.m. and run through 8 p.m. at the Fort Dalles Readiness Center, at 402 E. Scenic Drive in The Dalles. A $10 donation to attend the forum is suggested.

Althea Rizzo, geologic hazards program coordinator for Oregon Emergency Management agency (OEM), is among the experts who will come to The Dalles to offer sobering, riveting presentations on the “Big One” and discuss how communities, businesses and local residents can try to prepare.

An earthquake that is 8.0 or worse on the Richter Scale would probably leave much of the region’s transportation routes out of service. With that in mind, OEM officials encourage people to be prepared on their own with enough food, water and medicine to last at least two weeks.

“The one thing people can do to become better prepared is to work with their neighbors to get their neighborhood prepared,” Rizzo said. “None of us have everything we need to be on our own for two weeks, but pooling resources will help tremendously.”

A 2014 OEM report authored by Rizzo showed the dire seriousness of this type of earthquake, with projections of roughly 650 to 5,000 deaths directly from the quake and another 600 to 5,000 deaths due to the tsunami hitting the coast. There would be 24,000 buildings destroyed and another 85,000 with extensive damage and nearly 28,000 families would be displaced. Further, there would be approximately $32 billion in economic losses.

“If the people attending the fair come away with a better understanding of the hazard and the simple ways to prepare, that would be a success,” Rizzo said.

“Too often, people think there is nothing they can do to prepare, and that is forgetting that we prepare for things all the time. You check the pass reports before going over the Cascades; you get extra supplies before a storm; you save for retirement. We just need to get a bit more organized in preparing.”

Representatives from the emergency preparedness community will have informational booths and staff on hand to answer questions.

Despite the potential for an earthquake to seriously disrupt infrastructure systems around western Oregon, Rizzo said he is optimistic that Oregon residents are relatively well-equipped to deal with the possible hardships an earthquake could cause.

“I think Oregonians have accomplished a lot in the time we have known about the Cascadia Subduction Zone hazard,” Rizzo explained. “Could we be better prepared? Yes.

“There really isn’t a way to be perfectly prepared, but Oregonians are probably better prepared than they think they are because of how outdoorsy we are.”

For more information on this event, contact Suzanne Burd, community education coordinator at Columbia Gorge Community College, at 541-506-6123.


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